Mitchell Robinson
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Young center Mitchell Robinson‘s recent hot streak is proof the New York Knicks have their big man of the future.

Josh Benjamin

A dynamic young point guard and his team are playing the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. They trail 107-106 with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The ball is inbounded and the guard plans his move.

He reads the court and quickly realizes he has one route: drive to the basket and hope for a foul. He finds the lane, gets ready to try for the layup. It’s so close when … suddenly …

*1960s Batman-themed POW!!!*

The ball is slapped out of the young man’s hand by young Knicks center Mitchell Robinson. New York recovers possession, the buzzer sounds, and the Garden Faithful roar.

Now, you wonderful readers know this is an unconventional opening to an article, except it’s not. Robinson has been playing out of his mind as of late and has played his best NBA basketball yet.

Make no mistake, Knicks fans. He truly is the team’s center of the future.

Overcoming early struggles

We all know Mitchell Robinson’s story at this point. I even covered it last week, in discussing his ability to help the Knicks lure free agents this summer. Still, for the newcomers, here are the bullet points.

Robinson is a former five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American from the New Orleans area. He committed to play college hoops at Western Kentucky but withdrew before the season started and decided to turn pro. The Knicks made him a second-round pick in last summer’s NBA Draft, and then he tore up the NBA Summer League.

And though Robinson averaged 13 points, 10.2 rebounds, and four blocks per game on that level, his journey hasn’t been easy. He averaged 3.9 fouls per game in the month of November. A bum ankle cost him a month of action. Sometimes, he had to fight for minutes and didn’t average over 20 minutes per game until this month.

Well, folks, just like Lin Manuel Miranda in Hamilton, Robinson did not throw away his shot. He is averaging 10.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per game while shooting over 69 percent from the field. Robinson is still averaging three fouls per game for the season, but he’s also still learning the game and that number should soon drop.

New York domination

And throughout all of this, Robinson has remained largely a bench player. Of the 45 games in which he has played, he has started just a dozen times. Talk about a secret weapon! The other team is loving life, enjoying some dominance in the paint when suddenly, Mitchell Robinson enters and starts wreaking havoc!

Which brings the conversation to Robinson’s recent play. In his last five games, he is averaging 10.4 points, 10 rebounds, and an eye-popping 4.4 blocks. His work in the Knicks’ last two games, wins versus the San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic, has been even better. Robinson has posted 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 5.5 blocks in that pair of contests.

Granted, the Spurs aren’t as dominant as they once were. That team without Tim Duncan and/or Manu Ginobili means the Knicks were basically fighting Rocky Balboa but in Rocky V. Beating up on a team in a transitionary phase isn’t exactly an accomplishment.

That is, it isn’t an accomplishment unless you’re a Knicks team that had only 11 wins going into that game.

Throw in Robinson’s 15 points, 14 boards, and five blocks in that game, and his importance to the Knicks’ future speaks for itself.

The future

That brings the conversation to Robinson’s future with the team. To be clear, he isn’t going anywhere. The concern comes in the form of one man: DeAndre Jordan.

Jordan has averaged 11.8 points and 12 rebounds in eight games since coming to New York from the Dallas Mavericks in the Kristaps Porzingis trade. He is a dominant rebounder and has posted a 2.1 VORP this season or 5.7 WAR. That’s not bad for a center in his age-30 season.

But there’s more to Jordan’s Knicks future than just statistics. He’s friendly with Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant, who the Knicks are expected to heavily pursue in free agency this July. You think Mitchell Robinson is a great selling point for Durant? Just imagine the Knicks’ position if they also re-sign his buddy Jordan.

Except, that probably won’t happen. Per Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype, New York can offer Jordan a $27.47 million deal this summer. That’s all fine and dandy, except that deal drops the team’s cap space to $47.1 million from $74.6 million.

No disrespect to Jordan, but he won’t be enough to lure Durant. That cap space is for adding two max contracts, which has to be New York’s selling point on top of the young talent already on the team.

Given how Mitchell Robinson has played as of late, GM Scott Perry should have one thought on Jordan come July 1:

“DeAndre, who?”

Final thoughts

The fact of the matter is the Mitchell Robinson we’re seeing now is the one fans should expect in the coming years. The Knicks have been the Toon Squad for way too long and Robinson’s strong play has them one step closer to Monstars status.

And the deeper numbers say it all. He has a 1.8 VORP, or 4.86 WAR. That means he is responsible for nearly five Knicks wins this year, which is pretty impressive. He is averaging 12.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes. Per 100 possessions, those numbers go up to 16.9, 13.2, and six, respectively.

New York has been on the hunt for its big man of the future since Patrick Ewing was traded in 2000. Fans suffered as Channing Frye, Jordan Hill, and Kristaps Porzingis failed to live up to Big Apple expectations.

Mitchell Robinson, contrastingly, has embraced the challenge and committed himself to become a better player. Given his play over the last week, he’s on the right path.

Call off the search, armchair GMs. New York’s next great big man has finally arrived.

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